A 5-Step Approach to Devotional Bible Study

I have been exploring the 6 ways of being immersed in the Scriptures: Hearing; Reading; Studying; Memorizing; Meditating; and Applying.  This post will focus on the study of the Scripture.  If you read my original blog post, Quit Studying the Bible, you might have the impression that I am against all Bible study.  Not so. I want to be known as a student of God’s Word.  However, if my study doesn’t draw me closer to Jesus, why do it?

When I was in seminary I wrote my Master’s thesis on one verse of the Bible.  I spent months understanding the Greek, the grammar, the words, the culture, and the context of this verse.  I consider myself an expert on this one verse – at least an expert on my own opinion of it.  However, I can clearly state that it was an academic exercise that did not shed any theologically significant light on the verse.  More importantly, it didn’t change my understanding of or enhance my walk with Jesus.

Let me see if I can give you a general approach to Bible study that will serve you well, especially in your personal devotional life with Christ.

  1. Begin by reading the larger context.  For example, if you are studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians, then begin by reading Philippians straight through numerous times – the more the better.  Listen to it on an audio version. In addition, you should read the applicable accounts of Paul’s visits to the Philippi found in Acts.
  2. Do some background research. It is always good to know a little about the location and culture of the people to whom the book was written.  The wonderful thing about the internet today is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money buying expensive resources.  If you want to know about Philippi, do a quick Google search. You will find a wealth of information about the geography and culture of the people during New Testament days.  If you want to purchase a guaranteed reputable resource, there are plenty of great Bible handbooks available that will give you great background information.  One that I particularly like and trust is: How to Read the Bible Book by Book.  Also, many Study Bibles contain good background information.
  3. Understand the flow of thought. Read each chapter or section over and over to understand what the author is saying to his original audience.  Master the big picture.  Become an expert of the book before you try to master the details.  Too often we want to dig into a specific verse before we have a clue how that verse fits the flow of the bigger argument.
  4. Understand the verses from the original audience’s perspective.  It cannot mean to you what it was never intended to mean to the original audience.
  5. Forget word studies.  Unless you are a scholar, don’t try this at home.  It seems like all new Bible students want to jump right into word studies.  This is dangerous and rarely beneficial. Bible translators are the linguistic scholars.  They work hard at bringing us the best translation of the words within the context of the particular verse.  Instead of doing word studies, why not look at several different translations to get a feel for the different nuances of the words or phrases that would work.

Here’s the bottom line.  The more informed you are on the bigger picture context of the Bible and the specific book you are studying, the less of an expert you have to be on the minor details.  Remember, the Bible was written to be heard and read by average people.  By average, I mean people with little or no education.  You don’t have to be a scholar to study it devotionally.

The 35 Day Challenge basically walks you through this method of study.  Why not take the challenge?  If after taking the challenge you still feel you need something “deeper,” then go purchase a book on Bible study methods.

Have you taken the 35 Day challenge?

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